A newspaper columnist and an ESPN commentator both reaped the wild wind last month after statements in a column and on a televised panel that many, including me, took as irresponsible, unprofessional and worse. I wrote here about the column, a diatribe in Iowa’s Des Moines register by veteran Donald Kaul against guns, gun owners, the NRA and any politician who supported them. The panelist was ESPN’s Rob Parker, whom I didn’t write about simply because his racist rant against Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin was so obviously wrong that there was nothing much to say about it. If you missed it, African American Parker questioned Griffin’s bona fides as a black man because, among other offenses, he appeared to be a Republican and has a white girlfriend. I would have had a lot to write about ethical double standards if ESPN hadn’t finally fired Parker after suspending him, but he was let go yesterday.
Both Kaul and Parker now claim they were misunderstood, and thus treated unfairly. Kaul, who has been backed by his paper in an editorial, claimed in a recent column that his universally derided piece was obviously satire, and implying that anyone who didn’t catch the twinkle in his eye is illiterate:
“Gun owners seemed particularly upset at the suggestion that Boehner and McConnell be dragged [ by "a Chevy pickup truck... around a parking lot until they saw the light on gun control" ].The tactic, which dates back to the days of lynch mobs, became a more modern nightmare in the wake of the 1998 dragging murder of James Byrd by white supremacists in Texas. Many of the people I heard from said I should be arrested for threatening federal officials, and one said he had personally reported me to the FBI. Let me say this about that: That wasn’t a suggestion to be taken literally. I don’t believe Boehner and McConnell should be dragged. I was using it as a metaphor for making politicians pay a price for their inability to confront the gun lobby. It’s a literary device.
“Think of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” written 200 years ago, in which he suggested that the Irish famine could be relieved if babies of poor families were confiscated at 12 months and sold to rich people, who could eat them. Swift, an Irishman, didn’t mean that literally. It was a satiric device to underline the misery that had been visited on the Irish by their English landlords. So too with my dragging of the Republican leaders.”
Yes, this hateful hack just compared himself to Jonathan Swift.
Parker, meanwhile, takes a different route: he tries that old stand-by, “it was taken out of context.” He told an interviewer he was shocked at the uproar his comments caused, saying,
“I mean, looking back at some of the comments, I can see how some people can take it out of context and run with it, but the response, and what happened over the past 30 days and everything was just shocking.”
Really. Well, here is the video of Parker’s attack on RG III. Tell me in what context such remarks would be considered appropriate, and not racist and mind-blowingly stupid:
Your Ethics Quiz Question:
Which of the two defenses, Kaul’s “It was satire!” or Parker’s “It was taken out of context!” is more unethical, unethical in this case meaning, “a pathetic lie and an insult to the intelligence of everyone who hears or reads it”?
I think it’s a difficult call. Parker’s excuse obviously is pure dishonesty and self-delusion. He was on live TV, the video is unambiguous, and the context of the remarks does nothing to exonerate him. I can’t disagree with anyone who chooses Parker.
Personally, I am more disgusted with Kaul’s excuse, because he is obnoxiously snide and defiant and because at best he is blaming others for the fact that he is a lousy writer who wouldn’t know satire if it walked up and introduced itself. You see, Donald, the reason Swifts’ joke about eating babies was satire is that everyone knows that nobody eats babies, or would, to solve over-population and famine or for any other purpose. People have dragged people they hate from the back of pick-up trucks, however, and fairly recently, so it is far from ridiculous. Meanwhile,many people, including pundits a lot more credible and influential than you, do advocate repealing the Second Amendment. There is no question that millions of Americans would love to ban the NRA, as you suggested, and they are primarily the same left-minded people who read your reliably left-oriented columns. You can’t mix up plausible proposals (to a significant number of readers) with violent or hateful facetious ones and credibly argue, “I was only kidding!”
I don’t know which parts of his post were jokes and which weren’t, and I doubt anyone else does either. I do know that Kaul’s column was such incompetent satire that it forfeits application of the term. Taken as a whole, it expressed pure hatred and contempt for anyone who holds an opinion on gun control contrary to his, and conveyed the idea that such people were villains and deserved to be censored and harmed, perhaps violently. I think that this was exactly the sentiment he wished to convey.